If I hear that bitch giggle one more time, I may punch someone. Not really. Well, not likely. I’ve never actually punched someone. Even if I’ve thought about doing it. A lot. Especially in the last seven hours.
I’ve worked here nearly three years, slinging beers and booze five nights a week, but after being gone all summer, it’s been hard to find my groove again. Provided I ever had it here to begin with. I thought I did. After tonight, I’m struggling to remember how I ever made it through a shift without throwing myself headfirst into a brick wall.
It’s not so much that I find everyone as annoying as I’m finding Nat and her damn high-pitched squeal tonight, it’s more about how extremely inadequate I feel ten seconds after walking through the doors. I’m the only chick with dark brown hair in a sea of human Barbie dolls. I’m also the only one with my original boobs – my very own, much smaller boobs. Inevitably, this seems to directly relate to my tip jar always being slightly on the slimmer side at the end of the night. That, and I don’t do the giggle. The giggle is where it’s at. I know this. The more I think about this, the more I realize, I’ve always knowns this. And it’s not like I look down upon the giggle. I don’t. It’s just that in this world where giggle is master, I am its bitch – its pathetic, incapable bitch. One who finds the sight of hard brick particularly inviting tonight.
I automatically look up from running my end of the night reports at the sound of Burt’s voice. He’s the boss. He’s also a lot like Grumpy from the Seven Dwarves. Unless he’s drunk. Then he’s a cross between Dopey and Sleepy. I like drunk Burt best. Grumpy Burt scares me a little. From the look on Natalie’s face, right now, he scares her a lot. I notice she’s no longer giggling either. In fact, her face is stone cold and red hot – contradictory but true – as she ushers the hot dude she’s been letting grope her behind the counter for the last thirty minutes back out to where the customers are actually supposed to be during operating hours. Half an hour after closing, his ass is supposed to be out in the parking lot.
An angry jerk of Burt’s thumb and we all know she’s being summoned to his office. Things are about to get ugly. He won’t fire her. Even Grumpy Burt is incapable of firing anyone. Unless they have a penis. Then he’ll fire away. But Natalie doesn’t have one of those, so she’s safe.
It takes all of five minutes before she comes storming back out of the office. Tears are streaming down her face as she barrels her way through me on her way to her end of the bar.
“Hey!” I nearly eat it on the nasty floor mats and what is left of my fruit tray goes flying, red maraschino cherry syrup spilling everywhere in the process.
Natalie doesn’t care. Nor does anyone else, until she drops a glass by accident and sobs dramatically, shoulders slumping in her state of complete and utter misery.
I’m down on my hands and knees still picking olives out of the holes in the mat when I see both bar-backs and three bouncers rush to her aid. Fucking unbelievable. What I wouldn’t give to own the giggle for just one night.
The giggle is master.
The giggle keeps your ass from picking bits of pickled produce off the floor.
I’ve barely resurfaced with my mangled fruit tray and I find I’m standing face to face with Melissa, the assistant manager. “Can you help Nat finish up tonight? She’s really upset because Burt got on her case for having that guy in here after closing.” She leans in closer to whisper, “Apparently, he’s a freaking cop. Off duty, but still. Burt is livid.”
“I bet.” I dump the disgusting fruit buffet into the nearest trashcan.
“Yeah.” She nods, her hopeful eyes still waiting for me to confirm my desire to acquiesce to her request. Turning halfway until Natalie lands in my line of vision, I reach up to rub the dull ache in my shoulder. She really slammed into me when she came through. And she didn’t even say sorry. Honestly, I’m not really feeling all that helpful right now.
“Dude, I don’t know. Nat was a total bitch to me all night. She ignored half the customers when she was busy flirting with her cop boyfriend and then accused me of stealing her tabs when I picked up the slack. Not to mention, she about dislocated my shoulder five minutes ago.”
“Tessa, come on. We all know what it’s like to have a shit night. Just go help her out so we can all get out of here.” This time she doesn’t wait for me to agree. Probably because she knows she’d have to wait forever.
I mutter a handful of my go-to obscenities under my breath while I finish cleaning up my own station before I take a deep breath and visually attack the area I’m about to venture into. Nat’s sitting on the beer cooler now, eyes all puffy and her pointy nose twitching as she sniffs loudly every two seconds. That may be even worse than listening to her giggle. Although, judging by the way Tony, the bar-back, and Seth, the new bouncer, are still coddling her, I’m the only one who wants to dry heave at the sound of her snot traveling back and forth inside her sinuses.
“What still needs to be done over here?”
“Ice bin needs cleaning out. Liquor needs putting up, and glassware needs restocking,” Tony answers for her.
“I still need to count out my drawer as well,” Nat adds in a whimper, more to Tony than me. I guess we’re not speaking. Fine by me.
“If you’ve got this, I’m gonna walk Nat out to her car so she can get out of here.” Seth, the new guy, clearly isn’t aware that we all walk out together on weekends.
“Nat can’t leave until we all leave. Bar rule.” Then I take a page from Melissa’s book and avoid eye contact from this point forward to end the argument. I just want to get this done and over with.
It’s after three a.m. when I’m finally getting into my car. I notice my escort left me one row over when he reached his own truck. I don’t blame him. I’m pretty sure my biceps are bigger than his. He was probably safer walking with me than I was with him.
Regardless, I’m on the road and headed home. Home. Sounds almost strange now. It’s the same place I’ve lived since I was twelve years old and first moved in with my great Aunt Edie. It felt like home the second I walked in and knew I was staying. Even after she moved up north three years ago to be closer to her children who insisted she needed more care than I could give her, it felt like home. She still spent the winters here with me, and on the summer days I missed her most, I could call and put her on speaker, just to fill the condo with her voice for a while.
But things are different now. There won’t be any more visits. No more time spent listening to her fill me in on all the newest gossip going around the assisted living complex while I go about doing laundry or cooking or catching up on schoolwork. Aunt Edi is gone. And somehow, home feels gone too.
I exhale slowly, trying to steady all the emotions attempting to take me down again. Meltdowns and driving make for severely inefficient travel conditions. I know, I had about three on the drive back down here. The first time my speed dropped down to twenty-nine miles an hour for a good ten minutes. The second, a semi nearly took me out when I swerved trying to find a tissue (yeah, okay, so I nearly took out the semi, but size wise, come on, who was taking out who here?!). The last one really did me in. It was so bad, I had to pull over on the side of the road and wait it out. Or, let it out, rather. The only reason I ever got a grip again was because my need to pee suddenly became a more pressing issue than my need to cry. Damn liquids turning my body all leaky.
Stupid tears and stupid sobbing are the reason I had to bypass stopping by the condo and instead go straight to work after an eleven-hour drive. I allow my gaze to dip to the right and take in the pile of bags. Unloading everything from the passenger seat alone is going to take at least three trips. And that’s before I even tackle the back…and the trunk. Which will definitely have to wait until sometime tomorrow. Tonight, all I’m thinking about is what it will take to get me from point A to point bed.
If I don’t hit any red lights, I can make it to the condo in thirteen minutes. With lights, it’ll be seventeen. Yeah. I’m anal like that. I’ve timed it. I’ll need another twenty (maybe thirty given the luggage trips) to get inside, get showered, pour a glass of water and climb into bed. I’ll catch the end of Frasier. I don’t really want to watch it, I just like the background noise when I’m falling asleep. And I need sleep. Almost more than I need that shower. And I reek of booze and stuff I don’t care to contemplate, so if sleep is competing with shower, sleep is rating higher than usual.
I’ve barely got my key out of the ignition and the door open, when I hear Jules.
“Thank God, you’re finally here.”
I was thinking the same thing. I just wasn’t expecting to hear it from her the second I step out of the car.
“Jules? What are you doing out here? Do you know what time it is?”
She reaches for my arm and misses. She’s drunk. Fucking awesome.
“Come ooon. Drea needs you.” Her fingers catch my elbow on the second try and she stumbles off, dragging me along. We don’t get far before I see my best friend and neighbor sitting in a rumpled mess on the ground beside the staircase leading up to the third floor and our respective units. She’s got on her favorite hot pink bejeweled hoodie, so she’s impossible to miss, even in the dark.
“Drea, what are you doing down there?” At three thirty in the morning, I was hardly expecting a welcoming committee, even if I have been gone all summer long.
“She can’t move,” Julie explains dramatically as I crouch down to further investigate.
“You can’t move?”
Drea bites her lip and shakes her head. Even in a drunken stupor with mascara running down one side of her face and smeared lip-gloss reaching down to the dimple in her chin, she’s still beautiful. “I think I broke my leg.”
I fight the urge to roll my eyes. Doesn’t matter what sort of a state she’s in, she’ll notice, and she’ll hold it against me tomorrow. Regardless of how ridiculous she acts; she expects to be taken seriously. Apparently, it’s part of the best friend code. I just take her word for it. That’s part of the code, too.
“Why do you think you broke your leg?” Meanwhile, I can’t even find her legs under the fluffy skirt thing she’s wearing. It looks like part of her old prom dress. Wait a minute. “Are you wearing the gown you wore to prom?”
“Yes! Stupid Scott dared me to. He said there was no way my new boobs would fit.” By new boobs she doesn’t mean fake, just that they came in after graduation. Surprised us all.
“He was right.” I pull the zipper on her hoodie up higher. “Back to the leg.” Which I’ve now found. Strapped into the same heels that nearly killed her on prom night. “Drea,” I grumble disapprovingly, starting to piece things together. Her left ankle is red and slightly swollen. She must have rolled it coming off the last step. Wouldn’t be the first time a pair of shoes nearly sent her to an early grave. Booze, stilettos and Drea just don’t mix.
Placing both hands under her arms, I hoist her to her feet. We’re barely standing when Jules reaches out in an attempt to help, and nearly knocks us all over.
“It’s cool. I’ve got her.” Her face falters slightly and I add, “Thanks, though. Really.”
I line Drea and myself up with the stairs and peer up at the daunting task that lies ahead. I’m definitely off schedule. Cheers’ll be on by the time I get to bed. Because I really need more bar sounds for background noise after all of this.
“Oh, I better get Scott. He can carry Drea upstairs.” Jules makes to rush past me, but I stop her.
“If Scott was willing and able to do that, why was she sitting on the ground when I got here?”
“That fucker,” Drea mutters. “He’s the reason I fell.”
Oh, hell no. “What?”
“He was supposed to catch me.” Her eyes glaze over as she stares off into the night.
“What were you guys doing?”
“Walking down the stairs!”
I hate when drunk people get exasperated with me. Like, really? I’m the problem in this conversation?
“Got it. You were walking. You tripped. He was supposed to catch you, on principle I’m assuming? And he dropped the ball, or rather ballgown. Literally.”
“Exactly!” Her enthusiasm does seem to bring back some clarity. “Then he had the nerve to try and help me up. After I already fell! I told him, ‘Fuck off, buddy. Too little, too late’.”
“Fantastic.” I shake my head and reposition my grip to make sure I won’t drop her as well. “Alright. Let’s get this done and over with. First step. Nice and easy.”
It takes us at least twice as long as it would have if Scott had just carried her ass, but we finally make it to the third floor. At least her door is shut. Most nights when I find Drea out in the parking lot, we make it upstairs to find the door wide open and all of her worldly possessions free for the taking, not to mention the open opportunity for any potential creeper hoping to move up in the world of sex crimes.
“Hang on, I gotta get my keys.” I turn to Jules for backup in holding Drea upright but she’s nowhere to be found. Her condo is on the floor below us. Obviously, I was kidding myself when I thought she was in this mission with me for the long haul.
I’m struggling to balance keeping Drea on her feet and digging around in my purse when the door opens all on its own.
“You need a hand there?” Scott. Ney. Stupid Scott.
“You’re still here?!” I practically throw Drea at him. He catches her. This time.
“Drea took my keys before she started playing dress up.” He bends down enough to reach his arm under her knees and lift her properly. Her head is already nestled into his shoulder, completely unaware of how much she hates him at the moment.
“You don’t sound drunk,” I point out the obvious.
“I’m not.” He turns toward the living room, likely headed for the couch.
“Then why did Drea take your keys?”
“Because Drea was drunk.”
I’m not finding this chat with sober Scott to be any easier than the one I had with drunk Drea. I should really just retreat now and pretend this whole thing never happened.
But I don’t. Because Drea’s my girl and even if Scott loves her, his standards still far short on occasion where her care is concerned.
“You staying here tonight?” Scott mumbles, eyeing the sofa as if he’s wondering about its availability.
“No,” I scoff, slightly more annoyed than necessary. Just because I want to make sure Drea doesn’t land face first in a pillow where she might choke to death on her own vomit at some point during the night, doesn’t mean I intend to babysit her until morning.
He shrugs and proceeds to place her on the wide cushions. I snatch an afghan from the recliner and hand it to him to cover her.
“Any reason she’s not allowed to sleep in her bed tonight?” I ask, leaning on the armrest.
“You mean outside of her tendency to wake up throwing punches when she’s hung over?”
Forgot about that. “Right.”
Even in the midst of being a pretty straightforward jerk about things, I notice Scott still can’t quite get past how much he loves the crazy, punching drunk girl lying on the sofa. A gentle sweep of his finger over her forehead to move the tangled mess of curls from her face. A subtle tuck around her feet to make sure her bare toes don’t get cold. And lastly, a sweet kiss on her cheek and a quiet murmur of I love you, before he shuffles his feet lazily toward the bedroom still trying his best to portray a demeanor fit for a dude whose high maintenance girlfriend never gets the best of him.
Drea giggles. Because she can. Even half asleep and wasted.
“Isn’t he so cute?”
“Who?” I roll my eyes, knowing this time she can’t see them. Guess she’s back to being in love with Scott again.
“Hot New Neighbor Guy.” She stretches her arms out above her head, a doofy smile resting on her lips.
“I wouldn’t know.” And I’m not all that interested in finding out. “Meanwhile, he’s been living here for months. How do you still not know his name? I’m thinking it’s not Hot New Neighbor Guy.”
She attempts to make a psh sound but winds up blowing raspberries instead, spitting all over her own face. “You don’t know. It could be.”
“Yeah. Okay.” I stand. This time, I’m really leaving. “I gotta go. If I don’t meet with my pillow sometime in the next ten minutes, no one is going to be safe around me tomorrow.”
“You’re so traumatic.” She goes to swipe a loose strand of hair from her face but winds up just swishing it back and forth from one cheek to the other.
“It’s dramatic, not traumatic. Being friends with you, that’s traumatic. For me. Seriously, Drea. Classes start back up tomorrow. It’s our final year. Don’t you think it might have made a nice impression to start the semester not hung over for a change?”
“It’s just the first week. Nothing ever happens in the first week.” She turns until the side of her face is in the cushions and she smiles. I can’t help but imagine her younger self sleeping with her teddy mushed against her nose like this because she’s got an oddly toddler-like expression right now.
“Yeah, I know. The first week doesn’t count. That’s the fourth year in a row I’ve heard that argument.” But she can’t hear me. She’s passed the fuck out.
Hot New Neighbor
I wait until I hear the door close and know they’re both safely inside for the night before I go back to bed. Nearly called the cops two hours ago when the party spilled out into the common area, also known as my front doorstep. Then I remembered, I’m not old enough to be that asshole yet. So, I went back to bed.
Until I heard shouting, which turned out to be singing.
And I went back to bed.
Until there was cursing and door slamming, which turned out to be sober boyfriend getting irritated with the task of babysitting.
So, I went back to bed.
This last go around, I woke up because I had to take a leak (in hindsight, having a drink of water every time I was up, just because, was not a great idea). Since I was up, I figured checking in with the partiers was the responsible and nosey new neighbor thing to do.
I was just settling in at the peephole, located at a convenient angle to the door across from me as well as the stairs, given the kitty corner lay out of entry ways up on the landing, when I spotted two women struggling to get up that last flight of stairs. I was nearly out the door to help them before I decided that being the weird naked neighbor at three a.m. approaching drunk girls was not the lasting impression I was hoping to make around here.
Given how close they were to reaching the top, there was no point in trying to get dressed in a hurry. Instead, I opted to supervise. From a distance. And out of sight.
Now that I know everyone is safe and the party is definitely over, I have no plans to wake up for anything other than my alarm clock.
Except, my night is obviously not going in that direction.
My face has barely touched my pillow, when I hear someone at the door.
“Goddammit.” I push up and move back to my feet, grumbling the whole way, “Freaking drunk girls. Freaking college kid neighbors.” And fucking Olivia turning my life into this shit.
When I hear what sounds like the lock clicking, I speed up. I turn the corner to the living room, just in time to see her walk in.
Our eyes meet.
Her eyes drop a little lower.
Because I’m still naked.
A shitstorm ensues. I’m yanking the first thing I can get my fingers on into position in front of my crotch (the first thing turns out to be a throw pillow from the love seat) meanwhile, she’s shouting everything from four letter words to cries for help and requests for 911 calls as she makes a very calculated move for the umbrella tucked in the corner beside the coat closet and begins swinging it at me with full force.
“Whoa!” I duck just in time. “What are you doing?!” But she just keeps on coming, leaving me no choice but to abandon my efforts to stay covered for an attempt at staying un-clobbered instead.
Dropping the pillow leads to two things in my favor. One, she’s temporarily distracted. Again. And two, I have two free hands with which to grab the umbrella and disarm my crazy attacker chick.
Stumped, the crazy chick glares back and forth between myself and the door, clearly uncertain which to approach.
I help her out. “Get out. Unless you want to stick around while I make that call to the cops you were screaming for a second ago.”
“Are you insane?!”
“Bold words from a crazy person who broke into my apartment and started swinging an umbrella at my head!” Now that I’m not longer under attack, I make the time to walk over to the kitchen table where I left the laundry basket and pull on the nearest pair of sweatpants I can find. I’m almost not surprised when I turn around to find she’s followed me.
“I’m not the one who broke in,” she screeches. “And I’m definitely not the crazy one here!” Though she does seem less convinced of this when she comes to a stop in front of me, taking in the whole room.
“You’ve been here long enough to do laundry? What are you? Some sort of a squatter?”
I close my eyes and count to three. I’d like ten, but three is all I have time for. “Look, I know you girls have been partying really hard tonight, and things get a little confusing after that much fun, but this is my apartment. Not yours.”
She stares at me and I get the odd sensation she’s silently counting as well.
“First of all, I’m not drunk, and while I’m exhausted enough to believe that I may have temporarily lost my mind and wandered into the wrong unit, that still doesn’t explain why my key fit or why this place is filled with all of my shit.” Her pitch rises even higher as she spreads her arms out to her sides, indicating that everything in sight is hers. “My shit. ALL. MY. SHIT. Plus, YOU! Why do I have you? You don’t go with anything in here!” Exasperated, her flailing arms collapse at her sides.
Then, the front door swings open yet again, and drunk girl from before comes stumbling in along with sober boyfriend right behind her.
“We heard yelling,” the guy announces.
“You’re late,” crazy girl spats. “I could be dead right now.”
“Hot New Neighbor wouldn’t kill you,” drunk girl points out, laughing to herself.
Crazy girl’s eyes widen. “This is Hot New Neighbor?”
“Well, that’s not what I’m calling him,” sober boyfriend chimes in. “But yeah, that’s the dude you’ve been subletting your place to.”
“I’m not renting from her,” I point out, feeling the onset of a revelation coming for us all. “The woman I spoke to sounded a lot older. And frankly, saner.”
“What the hell is going on?” crazy girl whines, dragging her feet to the first kitchen chair in reach and sliding her small frame into it. She suddenly seems a lot less crazy and a lot more vulnerable. “Who would rent out my condo?” She buries her face in her hands and I have to fight the urge to reach out and comfort her. Instead, I march into the kitchen and retrieve my lease from the drawer below the coffee maker.
Her head lifts and her glassy eyes peek out. “What?”
“Edith Dash, that’s who I’m leasing from,” I explain, coming back toward her to hand over the lease so she can see for herself. Only she doesn’t take it. She just starts shaking her head ‘no’ over and over again.
“Not possible,” she whispers.
“Why isn’t it possible?” I ask, growing increasingly frustrated with the way this is dragging out for no apparent reason.
She wipes her face with the back of her hand. “Because Edith Dash died two months ago.”
“Edith Dash is…was…my great aunt. I’ve lived in this condo with her for the last decade. It’s been my home from the moment she invited me in, I seriously doubt her dying wish was to steal it out from under me. So, no. It’s not possible that she rented this place to you. And, even if she did, it wouldn’t matter. It’s mine now.”
“This is your condo?” I ask, trying to clarify what has become confusing beyond my four-a.m. brain capacity.
“Yes. My condo.”
I pull up a chair and sit down across from her. “Which your aunt sublet to me, for a year, before she died.”
“Just to be clear,” sober boyfriend interrupts. “No one is going to kill anyone tonight?”
I nod. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure we can rule out murder for the time being.”
“Cool. Then I’m going to take drunky here back to the couch.” He scoops her up into his arms and turns to leave without further ado, pulling the door shut with his foot on the way out.
I stare back across the table at the girl who now looks neither drunk nor crazy. Just exhausted. And heartbroken.
“Look,” I start quietly. “It’s late. There are two rooms here, two beds and two of us. Any chance we could just get some sleep tonight and sort all of this out tomorrow?”
Her jaw stiffens, and her lips turn into a thin streak on her otherwise soft face. “You want me to stay the night here with you? A total stranger?”
I can see how that sounds like a stupid idea. So, I extend my hand to her. “Michael.”
She grudgingly lifts her own to meet mine. “Tessa.”
“There you go.” I smile, sort of. “Not strangers anymore.”
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